Obama talks transportation funding, Jobs Act at Hilltop Concrete

With a rickety, steel trestle bridge as a backdrop, President Obama told a late-September gathering at Hilltop Concrete’s downtown Cincinnati plant, “We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad, Interstate Highway System, Hoover Dam [and] Grand Central Station.” With millions of unemployed construction workers ready to do the work for rebuilding America, he added, how can the country now sit back and let China build the best railroad, Europe the best highway, and Singapore a nicer airport?

Joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), President Obama visited the key Ohio ready mixed producer as part of a tour promoting the $448 billion American Jobs Act he sent to Congress in mid-September. “The bill …would put people back to work—repairing our roads, bridges, [and] schools,” he told the construction-wise crowd. “It would lead to jobs for concrete workers like the ones here at Hilltop; jobs for masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, architects, engineers, [and] ironworkers.”

The American Jobs Act contains three key infrastructure components, the White House reports: a $50 billion immediate investment in rebuilding roadways, railways, transit systems and airports; National Infrastructure Bank, with $10 billion in upfront funding, based on a model Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) have championed with bi-partisan support in the Senate; and, following President Obama’s directive to federal departments and agencies, provisions to help identify high impact, job-creating infrastructure projects that can be fast-tracked through the review and permitting processes.

“Everything in this bill has been supported by Republicans and Democrats,” said the president. “The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by the AFL-CIO [and] the Chamber of Commerce. Those two don’t get along on much, but they agree we should rebuild America.

“Thanks to the reforms that we’ve put into place,” he affirmed, “when we start rebuilding America we’re going to change how business is done. No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere. We’re going to cut the red tape that prevents some of these construction projects from getting started as quickly as possible. And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly is a construction project needed, and how much good will it do for the community.”

The Hilltop Concrete site was chosen partly for its proximity to a reference point, the Brent Spence Bridge. Linking Ohio and Kentucky—home to what the president noted are the two most powerful Republicans in Washington, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch O’Connell—the structure is among thousands the Federal Highway Administration has designated functionally obsolete based on design capacity versus actual traffic load. “We are honored President Obama chose Hilltop to address the importance of federal investment in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” said Hilltop Vice President and General Manager Brad Slabaugh. “Dollar-for-dollar and job-for-job, investing in infrastructure is the fastest way to recovery.”

Information provided by the White House press staff, U.S. DOT, and National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

NRMCA: Jobs Act at odds with Administration regulatory action

Responding to President Obama’s visit to member producer Hilltop Basic Resources, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association noted that the high profile call to action on infrastructure funding contrasts with federal regulatory matters hampering economic recovery.

“While we support using our industry as a vehicle to foster job growth and economic prosperity, we hope that the President would recognize his using an already overly taxed and regulated industry as a platform to discuss job creation while promoting more regulations [is] counterproductive,” said NRMCA President Robert Garbini. “Based on knowledge of previous and current market forces within our nation’s construction materials industries, it is the opinion of NRMCA that should the Environmental Protection Agency continue with its promulgation of the proposed Coal Combustion Residuals disposal rule and the Cement MACT rule, it will certainly invite unforeseen events resulting in the increased cost of our nation’s most basic construction materials, such as concrete of which cement and fly ash are essential components, and jeopardize the jobs of many in an industry that has already been economically devastated.”

Garbini noted that while the president’s visit to Hilltop elevated the importance of transportation funding, his lack of consideration for EPA’s over-reaching arm to force burdensome regulation, further strangles the industry’s ability to recover from the current economic malaise or create jobs. Highlighting the magnitude of numerous new regulations, NRMCA notes, an annual Competitive Enterprise Institute study finds that the federal government issues a new regulation every two hours and 20 minutes. Furthermore, in response to a request from House Speaker John Boehner, the White House released a list of the most costly regulations—each exceeding $1 billion—the Obama administration has proposed. Of the seven listed, four are linked to the ready mixed concrete industry.